AskDefine | Define rye

Dictionary Definition



1 the seed of the cereal grass
2 hardy annual cereal grass widely cultivated in northern Europe where its grain is the chief ingredient of black bread and in North America for forage and soil improvement [syn: Secale cereale]
3 whiskey distilled from rye or rye and malt [syn: rye whiskey, rye whisky]

User Contributed Dictionary



ryge, from *|rugiz. Cognate with Old Norse rugr (Swedish råg).


  • /raɪ/
  • Rhymes with: -aɪ
  • Homophone: wry


  1. A grass, Secale cereale, or its grains used for food and fodder. Scientific name: Secale cereale.
  2. Rye whisky.
  3. Rye bread.

Derived terms


grass or its grains as food
rye whisky See rye whisky
rye bread See rye bread

Extensive Definition

Rye (Secale cereale) is a grass grown extensively as a grain and forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to barley and wheat. Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, some whiskies, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries, or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.
Rye is a cereal and should not be confused with ryegrass which is used for lawns, pasture, and hay for livestock.


Rye is one of a number of species that grow wild in central and eastern Turkey, and adjacent areas. Domesticated rye occurs in small quantities at a number of Neolithic sites in Turkey, such as PPNB Can Hasan III, but is otherwise virtually absent from the archaeological record until the Bronze Age of central Europe, c. 1800-1500 BC. It is possible that rye travelled west from Turkey as a minor admixture in wheat, and was only later cultivated in its own right. Although archeological evidence of this grain has been found in Roman contexts along the Rhine Danube and in the British Isles, Pliny the Elder is dismissive of rye, writing that it "is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation" and wheat is mixed into it "to mitigate its bitter taste, and even then is most unpleasant to the stomach" (N.H. 18.40).
Since the Middle Ages, rye has been widely cultivated in Central and Eastern Europe and is the main bread cereal in most areas east of the French-German border and north of Hungary.
Claims of much earlier cultivation of rye, at the Epipalaeolithic site of Tell Abu Hureyra in the Euphrates valley of northern Syria, remain controversial. Critics point to inconsistencies in the radiocarbon dates, and identifications based solely on grain, rather than on chaff.


Rye, alone or overseeded, is planted as a livestock forage or harvested for hay. It is highly tolerant of soil acidity and is more tolerant of dry and cool conditions than wheat, though not as tolerant of cold as barley. In Turkey, rye is often grown as an admixture in wheat crops. It is appreciated for the flavour it brings to bread, as well as its ability to compensate for wheat's reduced yields in hard years.
The flame moth, rustic shoulder-knot and turnip moth are among the species of Lepidoptera whose larvae feed on rye.

Production and consumption statistics

Rye is grown primarily in Eastern, Central and Northern Europe. Main rye belt stretches from northern Germany through Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia into central and northern Russia. Rye is also grown in North America (Canada and the USA), in South America (Argentina), in Turkey, in Kazakstan and in northern China.
Production levels of rye are falling in most of the producing nations due to falling demand. For instance, production of rye in Russia fell from 13.9 million tons in 1992 to just 3.4 Mt in 2005. Corresponding figures for other countries are as follows: Poland - 5.9 Mt in 1992 and 3.4 Mt in 2005; Germany - 3.3 Mt & 2.8 Mt; Belarus - 3.1 Mt & 1.2 Mt; China - 1.7 Mt & 0.6 Mt; Kazakhstan - 0.6 Mt & 0.02 Mt.
Most of rye is consumed locally, and is exported only to neighbouring countries, but not worldwide.


Rye is highly susceptible to the ergot fungus. Consumption of ergot-infected rye by humans and animals results in a serious medical condition known as ergotism. Ergotism can cause both physical and mental harm, including convulsions, miscarriage, necrosis of digits, and hallucinations. Historically, damp northern countries that have depended on rye as a staple crop were subject to periodic epidemics of this condition. There have been "occurrence[s] of ergotism with periods where there were high incidents of people persecuted for being witches. Emphasis was placed on the Salem Witch Trials, in Massachusetts, in 1692, where there was a sudden rise in the number of people accused of being witches, but earlier examples were taken from Europe, as well."


Rye bread, including pumpernickel, is a widely eaten food in Northern and Eastern Europe. Rye is also used to make the familiar crisp bread. Rye flour has a lower gluten content than wheat flour, and contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber.
Some other uses of rye include rye whiskey and use as an alternative medicine in a liquid form, known as rye extract. Often marketed as Oralmat, rye extract is a liquid obtained from rye and similar to that extracted from wheatgrass. Its benefits are said to include a strengthened immune system, increased energy levels and relief from allergies, but there is no clinical evidence for its efficacy.
Rye straw is used to make corn dollies.


rye in Arabic: جاودار
rye in Asturian: Secale cereale
rye in Min Nan: Thǹg-theh-be̍h
rye in Bulgarian: Ръж
rye in Catalan: Sègol
rye in Czech: Žito
rye in Danish: Almindelig Rug
rye in German: Roggen
rye in Modern Greek (1453-): Σίκαλη
rye in Spanish: Secale cereale
rye in Esperanto: Sekalo
rye in French: Seigle
rye in Galician: Centeo
rye in Croatian: Raž
rye in Icelandic: Rúgur
rye in Italian: Secale cereale
rye in Hebrew: שיפון (דגן)
rye in Swahili (macrolanguage): Ngano nyekundu
rye in Latin: Secale
rye in Luxembourgish: Kar (Planz)
rye in Lithuanian: Sėjamasis rugys
rye in Limburgan: Rogge
rye in Hungarian: Rozs
rye in Dutch: Rogge
rye in Japanese: ライムギ
rye in Norwegian: Dyrket rug
rye in Polish: Żyto
rye in Portuguese: Centeio
rye in Romanian: Secară
rye in Quechua: Sintinu
rye in Russian: Рожь
rye in Simple English: Rye
rye in Slovak: Raž siata
rye in Slovenian: Rž
rye in Serbo-Croatian: Raž
rye in Finnish: Ruis
rye in Swedish: Råg
rye in Turkish: Çavdar
rye in Ukrainian: Жито
rye in Walloon: Swele
rye in Samogitian: Rogē
rye in Chinese: 裸麥
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